Oakland developer takes on big San Bruno development with more than 300 homes

San Francisco Business Times

June 5, 2017

Signature Development Group, known for taking on neighborhood-transforming projects in Oakland, is looking to do the same in San Bruno.

The developer is planning to overhaul Mills Park Center, an aging 135,000-square-foot office and retail center, into a new residential and retail complex with around 330 homes — a sizeable amount for 43,000-resident San Bruno.

The 4.5-acre property, at the corner of El Camino Real and San Bruno Avenue, is owned by San Mateo-based G.W. Williams Co.

“The city wants to bring people and business to its downtown core,” said Mike Ghielmetti, head of Signature Development. “They want to put housing development near transit and retail.”

In 2013, city leaders established the Transit Corridors Plan that outlined development guidelines for up to 1,610 new residential units, 900,000 square feet of office space and 149,000 square feet of retail space on 155 acres near main transit arteries and close to the city’s BART and Caltrain stations. A year later, voters approved a measure to increase height limits up to 90 feet in the downtown core.

“It’s pretty remarkable that people voted to raise the height limits and recognized that having more residents down there will have a positive effect on the city,” Ghielmetti said.

Some Peninsula residents are averse to adding housing or making their cities more dense, but some cities such as San Bruno, South San Francisco and Redwood City have embraced policies to encourage growth to accommodate more residents.

San Bruno also rebuilt its Caltrain Station a few years ago to make it more accessible for pedestrians. A similar effort is going in South San Francisco.

The goal is to bring more residents who can live and shop downtown and walk or take transit to work, said David Woltering, San Bruno’s community development director.

Overall, San Mateo County faces a significant jobs-to-housing imbalance. From 2010 to 2015, the county added more than 54,000 new jobs but only 2,148 new housing units, according a county report from 2016.

City planning efforts have spurred a slew of new housing projects, said Drew Hudacek, head of development for Sares Regis Group of Northern California, a firm that is developing more than 1,000 homes on the Peninsula, including the Plaza Apartments in San Bruno. The project, 83 apartments with 7,000 square feet of retail at 406 San Mateo Ave., is scheduled for completion next year.

Signature Development was also behind that development. It acquired and entitled the San Mateo Avenue site before selling it to Sares Regis.

Now, Signature Development is teaming up with G.W. Williams Co. to revamp Mills Park Center.

Signature Development is involved in some of Oakland’s highest-profile developments such as Brooklyn Basin, which will transform a former industrial waterfront area into a new neighborhood with more than 3,000 homes. The company also built or is developing several projects in Oakland’s Uptown neighborhood including Broadway Grand, a condo building, and the Hive, an office, retail and housing development.

The developer has experience entitling developments in other Peninsula and South Bay cities and then selling the sites to other builders, Ghielmetti said.

Construction on the Mills Park Center revamp could start next year. The project, designed by Oakland-based KTGY Group, will feature ground-floor retail topped by multiple levels of apartments.

“The intent is to build high-quality rental housing,” Ghielmetti said. “There is huge demand for housing in the area.”